Obama: U.S. focus will be on Iran, peace talks

WASHINGTON (JTA) — President Obama said the United States focus in the Middle East will be keeping Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon and advancing Israeli-Palestinian peace.

The two issues “have been a major source of instability for far too long,” Obama said in his speech Monday to the United Nations General Assembly.

He expressed openness to engaging with Iran in the wake of such calls by Iran’s newly elected president, Hassan Rohani, but also emphasized in unusually explicit terms that the United States was ready to use military force to defend its interests and its allies in the region.

“The United States of America is willing to use all elements of our power including the use of military force to ensure our foreign interests in the region,” he said.

“When it is necessary to defend the United States against terrorist attacks we will take direct action,” Obama said. “We will not tolerate the development or use of weapons of mass destruction. ”

Obama said Israelis had a right to live peacefully in the region and with the recognition of member U.N. states, including Arab states, but cautioned that Israel’s occupation of the West Bank was corrosive.

“There’s growing recognition within Israel that the occupation of the West Bank is tearing at the democratic fabric of the Jewish state,” he said.